Back away from the keyboard. That online petition you're about to sign is "pretty much a sham." Says who? Clay Johnson at InfoVegan, for starters. Johnson is something of a Web organization specialist, having worked on developing the online strategy for both Howard Dean's and Barack Obama's presidential campaigns. "According to the Congressional Management Foundation," writes Johnson, "the House of Representatives got 99,053,399 messages via the Internet in 2004." Your petition really isn't going to get read; the reason organizations try so hard to get you to sign it is that "politicians and advocacy groups value your email address over your voice." In fact:
It's the great lie of online organizing: that your voice to Congress or your voice to whomever can make a difference. It can, it should, but not through them. Nearly every organization in Washington is focused on one thing--inventing new and interesting ways to get your email address. And they want your email address so that they can ask you for money. The truth is: my.barackobama.com was and still is, the most sophisticated suite of tools designed primarily to capture your email address and ask you for money.
Online organizers for political groups are trained to recognize "strategic moments"--to find events in the media and in the national narrative that they can use to their advantage. ... The most basic and common method for political organizations to get your email address is via a petition.
So what's a civic-minded person to do? "Skip the advocacy groups," advises Johnson. "If you have something to say to Congress, house.gov gives you a method as does senate.gov." Or, "if you have something to say to Google," or some other corporation, "contact them yourself."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.